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Gluten free travel in Cambodia

Angkor Thom south gate, Cambodia
Angkor Thom south gate, Cambodia. Courtesy of Andrea Schaffer

by Carol Davis, celiac traveller

Travelling around Cambodia for three weeks and staying gluten free was actually much easier than I thought, despite all my worries. Since I couldn't find a Khmer gluten free card at the time, we took lots of English copies which turned out to be useless - restaurant staff simply didn't speak enough English.

I'd done lots of reading about food beforehand, and was delighted to find that the national dish is amok, which is a coconut based curry. And simply delicious, with vegetables, fish, prawns or chicken - I tried lots of different variations all round Cambodia, and stayed very well. And it's served with rice.

Many dishes on offer in Cambodia are Chinese-influenced, with soy sauce and wheat noodles, so obviously out. But many more are influenced by Thai or Vietnamese food, and were fine - coconut-based Thai green curries were wonderful as was tom yam soup.

So were Vietnamese style spring rolls (often called fresh rolls), made with translucent rice noodles and bursting with flavour: many places have photographs of the food on the menu, which helps. However in one place the spring rolls turned out to be Chinese style, wrapped in what was obviously a wheat flour pancake and with a soy sauce dip and which I clearly couldn't eat.

Beer was out, but there are lovely soft and fruit drinks too, and often wine and spirits.

The biggest problem was breakfasts. They were often a standard hotel cooked breakfast, with eggs, sometimes bacon and tomatoes, fruit and a piece of bread. Saying "no bread" worked, though many places then offered toast instead which had to be declined too: I had a loaf of my own GF bread in my bag.

But one breakfast arrived with a crusty, crumbly baguette carefully laid over the bacon - I said I couldn't eat it and asked for a fresh one. The waitress took it away, left it on the counter for five minutes, simply emoved the baguette and brought the same dish back. I couldn't make a fuss: this is a poor country - dietary choice, even intolerance, is a luxury and nothing goes to waste. I simply ate the egg on the other side of the plate, and had a long hungry bus journey that day.

I'd been concerned too about snacks on all day bus journeys. But at every stop, there were lovely GF foods to buy - sliced pineapple, small sweet bananas and hardboiled eggs.

After far too many gluten mishaps, I rely on GF menus and good communication with restaurant staff. Both were out in Cambodia, but by using a little common sense and selectivity I managed to stay gloriously well while travelling around the country for three weeks.

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